The problem wasn’t personality.
But it’s not surprising that Neel Kashkari, pressed to explain why his plans to fix California would succeed after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plans failed, would latch onto the ex-governor’s personality. That personally is an awfully big target, after all. Kashkari pinned Schwarzenegger’s problems on wanting too much to be loved.
That’s diagnosis is so wrong, and so at odds with the record, that the comment alone raises questions about whether Kashkari is ready to be governor.
First off, Schwarzenegger was more than comfortable drawing fire and hatred (just Google 2005 and “Year of Reform” and ballot initiatives, and you’ll see what I’m talking about) than just about any politician you’ll encounter in this country. He seemed to revel in seeking political trouble. His first love was for attention, not love, in part because he, in my observation, assumed that everyone loved him. (Yes, there were many who didn’t love him, but he seemed to think that was because they did not yet have the necessary information to reach that inevitable conclusion).
Second, for all of his personal failings, Schwarzengger’s failures as governor weren’t a product of personality. They resulted from the fact that California’s governance system is broken when it comes to budgets and taxes and anything that involves money, and that broken system, to use a common phrase of the Schwarzenegger era, kicked his butt, over and over.
When you look at the record (as I did in this 2011 piece which rings even truer today), there is an enormous divide between his record on matters involving budgets and money (with all the constraining rules and supermajorities of California) and those policy areas that didn’t directly involve money and where his hand was freer. On the latter, he has a very strong record – much of which was referenced in his spokesman’s response to Kashkari’s comments. On appointments, environmental policy, elections and various other areas, he got a lot of what he wanted. And much of it has turned out to be pretty good, with the notable exception of the ongoing democratic disaster that is the top-two.
The lessons from Schwarzenegger’s time should be crystal clear: on fiscal matters, this ex-governor tried virtually everything that has been suggested by both parties, and none of it worked. We need to fix our constitutional and budget systems so that governors and legislature can actually govern. A task of that size, requiring the reversal of decades of voter-approved actions, requires sustained investment in realigning public opinion in California – which is wildly at odds with reality – to at least somewhat match how the world actually works.
Jerry Brown, for all the good things he’s done and for all his good luck in budget matters, hasn’t altered this fundamental reality; his budget “comeback” has both locked in Schwarzenegger-era austerity and is based on short-term tax increases. And he has dismissed systemic reform as unrealistic. This dismissal – a product of political cowardice and narrow thinking –will have negative consequences for the state long after he’s gone.
Kashkari’s campaign should be relentlessly pointing this out, and should be explaining how he would attack the problem. I hold onto the faint hope that a leader in the bank bailout might know how to break rules and laws, and use emergency powers, to make grand changes.
Instead, he’s talking about high-speed rail and claiming that he will focus on jobs and schools. Good luck with that. Even if he were to somehow win, he would find that he is badly constrained in those areas by the very same system that defeated Schwarzenegger. That system doesn’t care how much love you need.